Framework

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African detainees sit against a wall inside a security complex now run by rebels. The opposition council governing eastern Libya brought foreign journalists to see the 50 African and Libyans alleged to have been fighting for Moammar Kadafi.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Detainees sit inside a courtyard where the walls are ringed with barbed wire. Most of the alleged prisoners-of-war looked sullen and downcast as they were put on display before Western and Arab journalists.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The opposition government in east Libya alleges these men are Kadafi fighters and include foreign mercenaries. Some vociferously protester their innocence.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Detainee Alfusainey Kambi denies he fought with Kadafi's forces. He said rebels seized him from his home and raped his wife.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An opposition official shows documents allegedly taken from Alfusainey Kambi, including two Gambian passports, which he seemed to imply indicate his guilt.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter carries an armful of wigs, which the opposition government claims some detainees had used to disguise themselves to avoid capture.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Detainees are led back to their cells after a rebel-organized tour by journalists.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Detainees sit on the floor as they eat a meal of pasta and tomato sauce.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A guard stands in the doorway to a cell block as detainees are given meals.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebels fighters guard the complex where about 50 African and Libyan men are being held as prisoners of war.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Journalists visit prisoners held by rebels in Libya

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Journalists visit prisoners held by rebels in Libya

By Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

Western and Arab journalists were taken by bus today to a location in Benghazi where men accused of fighting on the side of dictator Moammar Kadafi are currently imprisoned.

In a scene out of the movies about the dreaded penal colonies of French Guyana, some 50 Libyan and African men sat quietly against the high walls of a sun-drenched concrete prison yard. High above, the enclosure was ringed with coils of barbed wire. The prisoners looked sullen and downcast, many barefoot, their hands clasped together across their laps.

Peppered all morning by reporters’ questions about rumors of detainees, the opposition government took a page from the Kadafi playbook and arranged the bus tour.

The prisoners looked on as we crowded into the yard, some with fear clearly written on their faces. The whole thing started with one official telling the prisoners to say out loud where they were captured. One by one, the men said Bin Jawwad, Ras Lanuf, Port Brega, Ajdabiya or Benghazi — all scenes of heavy fighting in recent weeks

A middle-aged African waited for a moment before loudly proclaiming his innocence to no one in particular. “I am a worker, not a fighter. They took me from my house and [raped] my wife,” he said, gesturing with his hands. Before he could say much more, a pair of guards told him to shut up and hustled him through the steel doors of a cell block, which quickly slammed behind them.

Several reporters protested and the man was eventually brought back out. He spoke in broken, heavily accented English and it was hard to hear and understand him amid the scrum of scribes pushing closer.

He said his name was Alfusainey Kambi, and again professed innocence before being confronted by an opposition official, who produced two Gambian passports. One was old and tattered and the other new. And for some reason, the official said the documents were proof positive that Kambi was a Kadafi operative.

I moved on to other prisoners who had also been trotted out for photographs and questions. The whole scene had an unsettling feel, as if these men had already been tried and convicted — and all that was left were their executions. In a strange twist, I learned that internal security officers of the Kadafi regime formerly used the facility to detain, torture and kill political dissidents.

A representative from Human Rights Watch looked on silently, taking notes but declining to comment on the proceedings.

All I know is that the Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits prisoners of war from being paraded and questioned before cameras of any kind. But that’s exactly what happened today. The whole incident  just gave me a really bad vibe, and thank God it finally ended.

Times reporter David Zucchino, our interpreter and I skipped the bus ride back and instead got a lift from a passing motorist. In the car, our interpreter, a Libyan national, asked Zucchino: “So what do you think? Should we just go ahead and kill them?”

Just when I thought this war couldn’t get any weirder, it did.

More photos from Libya can be seen here. Read the full story “Libyan rebels appear to take leaf from Kadafi’s playbook.”

5 Comments

  1. March 23, 2011, 10:02 pm

    these Ben Ghazi thugs who sum fought with Al Qaeda in Iraq are NEVER GOING TO CAPTURE TRIPOLI! The ppl in the capital will never give up their land, homes, and wealth. The "rebels" actually think the US is helping them. The US shot at them when the rebels tried to peacefully save the downed pilots! GOD BLESS LIBYA AND GOD BLESS THE LEADER MUAMMAR AL-KHADDAHFI

    By: Reme
  2. March 23, 2011, 11:06 pm

    You give the wrong impression, unfounded, that these people will be executed without trial. In fact, international media in Libya have reported humane treatment by rebels, in many cases young mercenary soldiers were handed over to their parents after families contacted. This is extraordinary considering the high level of anger towards mercenary troops killing civilians in Libya.

    By: Sabrina
  3. March 24, 2011, 10:57 am

    if they really know wat ghadafi can do , the they will know that the prisoners need to be deported back to their country

    By: lany
  4. March 28, 2011, 10:54 am

    I saw a video on youtube of the rebels holding members of official Libyan army and men loyal to Gaddafi, as prisoners, questioning them and insulting, they were called Gaddafi's mercenaries because some of them were black ( rebels resent the fact that Gaddafi helped many black people of other African countries and that many of them were working in Libya), later in the video you could see them all executed on the ground, facing the earth. Later on, I found the same video edited, so it shows only the dead bodies of the soldiers, saying that Gaddafi killed them because they refused to kill civilians. I recognised them from the video I saw before ( by the way they were dispersed on the ground and by the clothes some of them were wearing ) That's propaganda for you. You should always think twice before you believe something. I can't put the link to the video here, but I'm sure, if you want to, you can find it on the internet.

    By: geaanchi
  5. March 28, 2011, 2:42 pm

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